Space Wars: Apocalypse Soon?
Bogged Down on Earth, the US Looks to Space
as Battleground of the Future

by Bill Berkowitz
December 9, 2003

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October was a busy month for two U.S. Lieutenant Generals, and they weren't even in Iraq. Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin hit the headlines when it was discovered that he had been visiting fundamentalist Christian churches across the country delivering speeches sprinkled with anti-Muslim bigotry. Dressed in full military regalia, Lt. Gen. Boykin equated the "war on terrorism" with the "war against Satan," disparaged Islam, and claimed that President Bush was "appointed by God."

While Lt. Gen. Boykin's remarks had an Apocalypse Now vibe to them, the other Lieutenant General -- Lt. Gen. Edward Anderson, a deputy commander of US Northern Command -- was more focused on Apocalypse Soon: He told an audience at a geospatial intelligence conference in New Orleans that war in space was, well, pretty much inevitable.

Lt. Gen. Boykin's defenders claimed that he's a "true believer" who was merely exercising his free speech rights. Critics argued that Boykin's anti-Muslim remarks made him a poor choice to be part of the new secretive Pentagon squad set up to coordinate intelligence on terrorists and hunt down Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and other high-profile targets. As of this writing Lt. Gen. Boykin's fate has yet to be decided.

Lt. Gen. Anderson's remarks stirred up only a few headlines, caused a slight rumble on the Internet, and then drifted off into the media-saturated ether.

In this day and age, anti-Muslim-war-against-terrorism speechifying trumps warnings of real wars just about every time.

China's space program: The irritability factor

The New Orleans conference was held about the same time China became only the third country to put a man into space. When asked about this development, Lt. Gen. Anderson told his audience that in his view, "it will not be long before space becomes a battleground."

"Our military forces ... depend very, very heavily on space capabilities," Lt. Gen. Anderson, who was formerly a Deputy Commander-in-Chief of US Space Command, said. The Chinese "can see that one of the ways that they can certainly diminish our capabilities will be to attack the space systems."

At the same conference, former defense department official Rich Haver pointed out that the day when the US commonly uses space as a launching pad for all types of exotic weapons is not that far off. Haver, who worked for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before becoming the vice president for intelligence strategy at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, told the conferees: "I believe space is the place we will fight in the next 20 years."

While "there are executive orders that say we don't want to do that... [and] there's been a long-standing US policy to try to keep space a peaceful place... we have in space assets absolutely essential to the conduct of our military operations, absolutely essential to our national security," Haver added.

"When the true history of the Cold War is written and all the classified items are finally unclassified," Haver continued, "I believe that historians will note that it was in space that a significant degree of this country's ability to win the Cold War was embedded."

Responding to a question about the Chinese space launch, Haver pointed out that "the Chinese are telling us they're there, and I think if we ever wind up in a confrontation again with any one of the major powers who has a space capability we will find space is a battleground."

In mid-November, Chinese state media announced further plans to launch up to 11 satellites in the next 14 months and to launch a second manned space craft by 2005.

In some Washington circles, China has always been seen as a potential military threat. Earlier this year, Aaron Friedberg, a China specialist and Princeton University professor, was added to vice president Dick Cheney's staff as deputy national security advisor and director of policy planning. "He's a China-threat person without being hysterical about it," said John Gershman, an Asia specialist at New York University. "But his appointment is a clear sign that the cooperation that has emerged between the US and China on the war on terrorism and North Korea is entirely tactical, and that Cheney is still inclined to see China as a strategic competitor."

Friedberg, who has received nearly $300,000 from two conservative foundations -- the Smith-Richardson Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation -- wrote in a November 2000 piece for "Commentary" magazine ("The Struggle for Mastery in Asia"), that "over the course of the next several decades there is a good chance that the United States will find itself engaged in an open and intense geopolitical rivalry with the People's Republic of China (PRC)." Economic competition could give way to a military conflict if "a single catalytic event," occurred "such as a showdown over Taiwan," which "could transform the U.S.-China relationship virtually overnight."

Friedberg was a co-signer of the 1997 founding charter of Bill Kristol's Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which among other things called for a new "'Reaganite' policy of military strength and moral clarity."

In the fall of 2002, the Washington Times' Bill Gertz wrote of a report sent to Congress by the Pentagon which claimed China was developing "exotic weapons" including "high-technology arms" such as "laser weapons and radio-frequency bombs, to boost its [China's] ability to successfully carry out warfare against the United States and other advanced military powers."

But the US may not only have China's space program to contend with. In early November, the European Union published a 60-page white paper titled "A New European Frontier for an Expanding Union," urging the allocation of more resources on space technologies.

"Space is not only an adventure, it is also an opportunity. Europe cannot afford to miss out," the white paper read. According to European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, Europe faces two real risks if it does not adopt a new approach to space policy: "Europe may run the risk of declining as a space power and space companies could also suffer because of weak commercial markets, and critical knowledge and skills could be permanently lost to Europe."

Booting up the Chinese threat is as old as, well, China itself. Conservatives and neoconservatives have long been wary of China and apprehensive about its superpower potential. Lev Navrozov, who founded the Center for the Survival of Western Democracies in 1978, recently wrote of his intent to establish "a unique Chinese geostrategic research institute employing the most sophisticated Chinese scientists, scholars and thinkers from among the Chinese emigre dissidents in the United States" whose "purpose is to convince the public that China is a geostrategic successor" to the former Soviet Union.

And Charles R. Smith, President and CEO of SOFTWAR, a consulting company specializing in cyber technology and security issues, and a columnist for the right wing NewsMax.com, recently charged that the Chinese space program "is designed for war" and Chinese leaders will be sharing its "space images with its allies, including North Korea."

Seeking the strategic high ground

Since the beginning of armed conflicts armies have struggled to control the high ground to more easily rain down death upon their adversaries. From the Reagan Administration onward, the US has been developing a space-based missile defense system -- the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as "Star Wars" -- that would employ laser weaponry orbiting the earth to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles. While billions have been spent on testing nuclear physicist Edward Teller's dream-child, many scientists claim that not much has been concretely accomplished.

During the first Gulf War, the US "used sophisticated satellite technology to pinpoint Iraqi targets" which gave it "an unprecedented view of the battleground, showing every move that the Iraqi armies were making during the war," writes Kevin Bonsor in a piece called "How Space Wars Will Work." "Satellite imagery became the main source of information on the Iraqi army during the war" and the Global Positioning System (GPS) -- a constellation of satellites orbiting Earth -- "was used by soldiers on the ground to determine their bearings."

Now, writes Bonsor, "The new high ground is space." According to Bonsor, the U.S. Space Command's Vision for 2020 report recommends "that space weapons must be developed to protect U.S. satellites, and other space vehicles, as other countries develop the ability to launch spacecraft into space."

Lt. Gen. Anderson's message at the New Orleans confab may have been surprising in its directness, but he wasn't staking out new ground. Two years ago, he told the House Armed Services Committee that "We must prepare now to ensure our continued access to space and deny space to others if necessary."

Back in 1996, Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Space Command, Joseph W. Ashy, was quoted in Aviation Week and Space Technology: "Some people don't want to hear this, and it sure isn't in vogue, but-absolutely -- we're going to fight in space. We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight into space. . . . We will engage terrestrial targets someday -- ships, airplanes, land targets -- from space."

A year later, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space, Keith R. Hall, speaking at the National Space Club said, "With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it and we're going to keep it."

Bill Berkowitz
is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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